Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (March 21, 2008)
Told in first person from Ms. McGill's point of view, her great-great grandmother, Jane, was a slave born on Ol' Man Deboreaux's Georgia plantation. In 1842, when Jane was sixteen, Ol' Man Deboreaux bought five new slaves whose hunger for freedom rendered them magical powers that set them free. This story of hardship, hope, and belief has been passed down from generation to generation in Ms. McGill's family through her great-grandmother, Mama Jane, the daughter of the Jane in the story.
While the story does have a happy ending for the slaves who gained their freedom, McGill paints a realistic picture of the cruelty and injustice of slavery that is also appropriate for young readers:
"The new Africans would have to learn hard work by the whip for the rest of their lives. If a hoe rested too long, the whip popped. If cottonseeds didn't hit the dirt fast enough, the whip popped. Nobody could tell from what direction the sound of the whip would pop."
Jude Daly's illustrations give us a bird's eye view of the events that take place in the story, and give it a sort of dreamlike feel. The muted browns of the earth the slaves cultivate are enhanced with splashes of color here and there--a red skirt, the yellow sun, a green tree.
The back of the book includes a note from Alice McGill who gives some background information about slavery and the origin of Way Up and Over Everything.
Carrying an important message, this book will be sure to spark many conversations and questions and would make an excellent addition to any classroom or home library.